The Case of the Bereaved Butler by Cathy Ace

3 Mins read
The Case of the Bereaved Butler by Cathy Ace front cover

The women of the WISE Enquiries Agency, Wales’s premier private detectives, face a busy summer of sleuthing in The Case of the Bereaved Butler. It marks the ninth outing for Cathy Ace’s intrepid female investigators, who are once again faced with a plethora of complex cases, both at home in the picturesque village of Anwen-by-Wye and farther afield in both London and the Welsh countryside.

The conundrums begin with the Duke of Chellingworth’s mounting concern about his butler, Edward. The generally stalwart man has not been buttling as usual since the untimely death of his brother some two weeks earlier. Such behaviour might seem reasonable, but the Duke suspects something more sinister is afoot. Sure enough, when questioned by Mavis and Althea, Edward reveals that he has good reason to suspect his brother was murdered…

While the unfortunate butler’s bereavement will have to be dealt with on a pro bono basis, a paying case also comes WISE’s way when millionaire Walter Gulliver hires the agency to track down the farming family he stayed with when he was evacuated to Powys in September 1939. He was only four years old and so has few memories of the time, but he would like to know more about the people who took him in. Hopefully Carol’s internet sleuthing can turn something up.

Meanwhile, Annie and Tudor are still renovating the newly acquired Coach and Horses pub, which is progressing at a painfully slow pace. When Annie spots that building materials are disappearing, it appears there might be something more nefarious than shoddy workmanship going on. Plus, Christine seems to be battling a health problem, or a drink problem, or both, while Alexander finds himself entangled with a bunch of blackmailing cybercriminals.

As the cases that are keeping them occupied professionally intersect with the puzzles that are plaguing their private lives, Mavis, Carol, Annie and Christine, as well as those affiliated with the WISE Enquiries Agency in various ways, face a packed July that is going to leave them all needing a good holiday.

There’s so much warmth and joy in all of the WISE women’s investigations – even those involving murder and mayhem – that the series is always a pleasure to read. Cathy Ace has crafted a group of canny, tenacious, good-natured and humorous detectives who are so engaging that reading about their adventures is like revisiting old friends. She also makes sure to have them cracking cases complex enough to get even the most experienced armchair sleuth’s little grey cells working.

The Case of the Bereaved Butler is a classic cosy mystery at heart, featuring plenty of eccentric characters, genteel country estates and bloodlessly convoluted criminal capers to keep things interesting. The WISE women are unusual in the genre due to their professional status as detectives – given that cosy sleuths are usually amateur sleuths – but they still tick all the boxes in terms of being unlikely and unconventional investigators.

The bucolic backdrop of Anwen-by-Wye is richly evoked, with the Welsh country setting almost serving as another character in the story. Every aspect of the world-building is pitch perfect, from the charm to the oddities to the hazards. Even when circumstances require a trip to the Big Smoke, Ace presents a Midsomer Murders-worthy interpretation of London where the landed gentry freely mix with reformed ne’er-do-wells. Not even murder could put someone off visiting the places she describes.

Still, while The Case of the Bereaved Butler is certainly both agreeable and cosy, it is not without peril. For one thing, who would be evil enough to tamper with Edward’s brother’s EpiPen so that his next shellfish allergy attack proved fatal? Could a fellow butler have done it? What’s more, as the investigations progress, one of the WISE women faces some properly deadly danger that could spell the end of things.

With numerous cases – both big and small – to solve, several villains to identify and a host of red herrings to sift through, The Case of the Bereaved Butler throws an awful lot at the WISE women and their associates, and they prove more than up for the challenge. Once again, Ace has combined various sorts of wrongdoings with a whole lot of heart to deliver a compelling cosy crime novel.

If you’d like to try more of Cathy Ace’s mystery novels, check out The Corpse with the Opal Fingers and The Case of the Cursed Cottage.

Four Tails Publishing

CFL Rating: 5 Stars

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